A smidge of science might help immeasurably at this time of year as we invite one of our favorites into the kitchen: the egg. You know, that sign of spring, the Easter thing.

For as simple as it appears, the egg is significantly complex. Knowing its science makes for better eating.

Its two main constituents — the white and the yolk — react to heat in different ways, and therein lies any difficulty in cooking.

The white is 88 percent water; the yolk, 50 percent. That moisture turns to steam when heated, the steam differently affecting the two kinds of proteins, in turn, in the white and in the yolk.

The white’s proteins are like a skein or ball of yarn. Heated, they untangle and bond to each other, becoming firmer and firmer and forcing out moisture, hardening finally into a rubbery mass.

The yolk’s proteins are spherical, and set inside each other, like thousands of Russian dolls. You’ll notice that, when overcooked, the yolk isn’t rubbery like overcooked white, but crumbles like chalk.

Basically, I’ve learned that successful poaching, hard cooking, scrambling and whipping (to give just four examples) depend on how I manage the two proteins in an egg. For example, my best soft-cooked eggs blast the whites with heat before slowly working their way into the refrigerator-cold yolk. (I want the white to end up soft at 180 degrees; the yolk to be runny at 155 degrees.)

So I place anywhere from four to eight eggs, just out of the refrigerator, into a bamboo steamer, already set over steaming, simmering water. (In Denver, that water is 200 degrees, not sea-level 212.) Either starting eggs in cold water in order to soft cook them, or adding a number of cold eggs into simply boiling water (which lowers the water’s temperature dramatically), doesn’t work. I want to give the super-hot water the chance to cook the whites to a higher temperature before it works its way into the yolk to do its job there.

Likewise, when scrambling eggs, I keep those protein structures in mind. (A more proper term would be “coagulating eggs,” because that’s what I’m doing to the proteins, but then what would a gazillion diner menus read?)

First, I salt the lightly whipped eggs at least 15 minutes before cooking them in a good amount of fat (read: butter). The salt gets in between the proteins and prevents them from bonding in the same way that they would without salt, so I get more control when the heat hits the pan.

The fat also slows down the untangling of the white’s proteins and the too-quick hardening of the yolk’s. The fat also gets in the way of the escape of steam, thus retaining more moisture in the finished scramble.

A couple more hints when dealing with eggs that acknowledge the egg’s science:

  • Old eggs are easier to whip into peaks than fresh. As an egg ages (six to seven weeks out of its hen), its pH rises and the elevated acidity affects the electrical charge of its protein, in the same way that adding cream of tartar (powdered tartaric acid) does.
  • The whites and yolks of fresh eggs are easier to separate because the membrane protecting the yolk (the vitelline) weakens with age. Also, separate eggs when they are cold rather than room temperature because the yolk is firmer in that state.

When you travel this summer, you’ll note that, in many countries, whole eggs are displayed on the counter, outside of any refrigeration. Unlike many other governments, ours mandates that fresh eggs be washed before sale and, in so doing, does away with a natural, protective cuticle given each egg on laying.